Reports of dengue related deaths are coming from different pockets of West Bengal almost daily, with Kolkata and adjacent North 24 Parganas district being the epicentres. However, complete confusion continues on the actual statistics by the state government both in terms of the number of people affected so far this year and the number of deaths.
As per the state government statistics there was not a single dengue related death in West Bengal in 2020. In 2021, the number of deaths on this count was recorded at just seven. Till the time this report was filed the state government was yet to come out with data on the number of people affected and the number of deaths due to this vector-borne disease. However, as per sources correlated by the media from different public and private hospitals, the number of deaths has already crossed 50 and around 52,000 people have been reportedly affected by dengue since its outbreak this year.
Union minister of state for health and family welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar too has alleged that West Bengal is the only state that is not sharing data with the Union government on this count.
Instead, what can be seen is a high-pitched political slugfest which it is feared will disrupt the winter session of the West Bengal assembly scheduled to start from November 18.
The BJP’s legislative team in West Bengal will bring an adjournment motion in the assembly seeking a discussion on the matter. According to the BJP’s legislator from Asansol (South) assembly constituency, Agnimitra Paul, at a time when dengue is assuming the shape of an epidemic where even children are becoming victims, the state government is trying to suppress figures. “There is a clear instruction to government doctors to describe dengue deaths as deaths due to unknown fever. We will be raising this issue in the winter session of the assembly,” she said.
CPI(M) leader and former mayor-in-council of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Faiyaz Ahmed Khan has claimed that at a time when Kolkata has become one of the two main centres of this disease, the city mayor is busy in praising cattle-smuggling accused and Trinamool Congress’s Birbhum district president, Anubrata Mondal as the tiger of the district.
Mayor Firhad Hakim, who is also the state municipal affairs and urban development minister, claimed that there is no reason for the state government to hide the data and statistics on this count. “Why should the state government hide the figures on this count? How will the state government benefit from hiding the data? If we hide the data then the Union government will get an excuse to deprive us of central assistance. Rather we will provide more data and demand additional central assistance,” Hakim said.
Could this crisis have been avoided had precautionary and public sensitization attempts been made in advance?
According to specialists in vector-borne diseases, two of the four varieties of dengue detected in West Bengal are extremely critical for those affected by it. According to them, besides elderly persons, those who have been affected by COVID-19 more than once or affected by dengue more than once before are more vulnerable to fatal impact.
A senior government doctor, who refused to be named, said that now after the dengue impact has taken a serious shape, there have been attempts to monitor the factors that lead to proliferation of dengue-carrying mosquitoes like open water tanks in several residential buildings or accumulated water at different construction sites. ‘Now an awareness drive has also been started to sensitize the people about precautions to prevent dengue. But had such precautions been taken before this alarming stage had been reached, the situation would not have been so critical,” he said.
According to him, after the dengue situation turned critical, the state government as well as different municipal corporations have now decided to work jointly to prepare a masterplan to prevent this deadly disease next year. “Same emergency initiative could have been taken in 2021 to prevent this crisis this year. Probably, the minimal impact in 2020 with zero death figure and 2021 with just seven deaths made the administration a bit lackadaisical,” he said.